Saturday, 27 September 2008

Coming of age - the adventures of Dusty

OK - I know that some folks will see this pic and think "how has she taken a photo this good of planet Zogg". Others will look at it, and think "huh?". Others will realise what it is and either think it's a miracle of nature or that it's truly gross.

I fall into category three - to me, it's a miracle of nature and one I've been waiting and hoping for over the last three months very anxiously.

It's the first egg from our three new babies - Dusty has been growing a fantastic bright red comb over the last couple of weeks. This is a sure-fire indication that she's about to start laying. On Wednesday, I poked my head into the nest box to find this little beauty - a pale alabaster pink egg, quite small but absolutely perfectly shaped. The egg was smeared with blood as is always the case on the first occasion a hen lays an egg. My little girl is now an elegant and beautiful young woman - she has come of age, biologically speaking.

She's a Blue Andalusian (a rare breed), small, slim, has a terrific long tail and a massive comb compared to our other hens. To be fair, it's a breed thing and she's just got what all Blue Andalusians have, it's simply that we only have one. Her feathers are amazing - dark on her head, then getting lighter along her body, though each individual feather is edged with black, giving her an appearance of being almost scaly. She's named after one of my heroes - Dusty Springfield, because when we picked the three new hens up from the farm where they were born and raised, they sang to us in low voices so they're all named after singers.

To celebrate her journey into womanhood, she decided to go on a "rites of passage" rebellious romp on Thursday. I could hear a commotion that was obviously chicken, coming from up the hill from our home. I thought nothing of it because several of our neighbours also keep chooks. Then I looked up and noticed a lovely Blue Andalusian sitting on top of the six-foot high fence between our next-door neighbour's house and their next-door neighbours on the other side of them. Ooops. There is only one Blue Anderlusian in our village and that's Dusty.

I called for reinforcements (David), got a couple of long sticks and some corn and we set off next door to effect a recapture. She, of course, like every rebellious young woman, was not interested in recapture so she flew over my head, landing in the garden. There followed ten minutes of charging around with us after her while old nimble feet neatly evaded our every lunge. Finally, she flew up onto the shed next to our own boundary and all we needed to do then was to give her a gentle prod in the bottom to get her to fly down into her own territory.

By the time we'd got back round to our own garden, she was in the hen house clucking indignantly and looking a bit "bothered" about her adventure. Let's hope that she has exhausted her wanderlust!

By the way - this is the first time I have taken a new photo for my blog in the six months or so since I left pbase.

For anyone wondering about Archie, his progress is slow but he's certainly showing improvements.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Emotional Weather Forecast

For the last year, there has been a constant fog stretching in every direction from my world, as far as the eye can see and as far as the imagination can contemplate. This fog is now beginning to lift and there are occasional glimpses of blue sky appearing.

From tomorrow onwards, the occasional flashes of blue will become more frequent and the fog will lift over the course of the next few months. This is odd given that we're probably about to go into a period of prolonged fog/cloud/rain in our real world but "it may be winter outside, but in my heart it's spring".

That's the end of today's forecast, I'm going out to look for blue sky!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Memories are made of this

My childhood is peppered with memories of picking fruit in various guises. My Mum used to work in the strawberry fields picking strawberries. That may sound idyllic but is, in fact, gruelling work, bent double picking fruit that's at ground level in full sunshine with no shade whatsoever. My Mum used to work in shorts and a tee shirt and had nut brown legs, arms and a little patch across her back where her tee shirt parted company from her shorts. The pay was terrible and the work hard but she did it because we needed the money. Nowadays, I'd guess that much of this sort of work is done by migrant workers but in those days it was all women just like my Mum.

We also picked the blackcurrants that went into the 1960s Ribena - I've discovered recently that 90% of the commercially grown blackcurrants in this country are sold to GSK for this purpose. The nuts we picked (chestnusts and hazelnuts) from hedgerows and blackberries and you have a pretty good set in terms of fruit picking but these latter things went nowhere further than our own tummies.

I love picking food from hedgerows, to me it's one of the purest pleasures you can have. It's free food - in these times of rising food prices how much better can it be than eating something you've not paid for in any sense except for the time taken to pick the berries or nuts.

Years ago, we picked our berries and nuts in the hedgerows of farmers fields and on several occasions, got turfed out by angry land owners for trespassing. Yesterday, I picked myself a big bowl full of blackberries from our own field's margins. I got scratched and stung - the brambles grow in perfect harmony with gorse and nettles so if the brambles themselves don't get you, you're gonna get "bit" by one of the others!

There is a deep sense of satisfaction, gained from the very pleasure of an hour in the autumn sunshine picking, with Rosie running around full of joy. She even ate a blackberry that I held out for her. Despite cuts, scrapes and nettle stings, it was one of the best things I've done in ages, especially knowing the blackberries were pollonated by our own bees and there was nothing "nasty" on the fruit from farming sprays.

Coming inside, the whole bowlful got tipped into a saucepan, water and cooking apples added and boiled to within an inch of its life. Then my heath robinson straining kit was used to extract the juice from the pulp and it's now ready to go into the final step of making spiced bramble jelly - juice, sugar and allspice. This will happen later today and our latest batch of free food will be ready for consumption from tomorrow onwards. Yee haa.

Heath Robinson straining kit - an upturned stool with a china bowl placed between its legs, a tea-towel pegged to the ends of the legs so it's suspended like a hammock over the bowl, then the hot mush poured into the tea towel. The whole lot is covered up with tea-towels so the flies can't penetrate and then it just gets left overnight for the juice to drip through slowly.

Update on Archie - as I type, he's in the garden, chasing chickens as best he can when his illness means he basically goes round in circles - but he at least has a bit of speed up and he's managed to eat some food. The eye movement is gone but the dribbling is still there. He's considerably better than he was but still far from the dog he was until last weekend.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A little better

He's improving a tiny bit. He's eaten a little tuna fish and pottered about a little bit. Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Archie's progress

He's still very sick but the vet is encouraged by his responsiveness so he's home with us again after another exhausting (for all of us) trip to the vet.

He's got old dog vestibular syndrome, which in most cases clears itself up, although the underlying cause can be a tumour. We just have to watch, wait and see - lots and lots of TLC are on the menu, along with "special" supper, which amounts to being hand-fed with chicken or fish.

This morning, I was the one cracking up under the pressure but I feel calmer now I've been able to look the condition up online and see what a range of experts have to say.
This pic was taken eighteen months ago when he was enjoying a romp on the moor.

Please send any good vibes to Archie and if you have any fairy dust in your pocket, sprinkle a bit for him......and for us.

Monday, 15 September 2008


Archie (top dog in the Alstead-Mingay household) is sick. Not just sick but really, really poorly. It's been a traumatic day.
He has got something wrong in his head, it's affecting his balance, his ability to walk and perform normal doggie functions - and yes, I do mean all normal doggie functions, so on top of his poorly state, it's not been a terrific day here.
DM and I both think the world of this old chap of indeterminate age. He's somewhere between 11 and 14 but we can't be any more accurate than that. We're both in agony and he's somewhere strange. The vet says that he thinks it's like waking up with a monumental hangover that rest, sleep, darkness and quiet are the main treatments for - he's also had a thermometer somewhere not-so-nice and a jab in the neck (steroids). Tomorrow, he's got to go through the difficulties of going back to the vet and we're desperately hoping for a magical recovery by morning.
Roy Hattersley was right (I've just finished Buster's Secret Diaries) - he said there can't be a God because if there was, he'd make dogs live as long as humans! I hope the Archduke of Cornwall lives to fight another day....the next few hours are critical.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Cross-dressing Footie

It was the day of the Meadow Fair yesterday - a range of stalls on the school playing field in our old village, including (but not comprehensively), plate smashing, a barbecue and a bookstall. I bought three books at the princely sum of £1 for all three - a bargain if ever I saw one.

The Meadow Fair culminates in a football match, with all of the participants dressed up in women's clothing and in full pantomime style make-up. It truly is a sight for sore eyes as the men, fiercely compete teams made up of half men and then populated with ten year old (and a few younger ones too) boys, also in full women's dress. What a hoot. The game was closely fought and eventually won in an extra-time scramble by Howard's team. Howard, in a black lycra dress, and yellow furry rabbits ears, with a bunny face painted on and a ciggy in his hand, kept goal.

What's funny about this is that the men all love to play this mad game and spend weeks beforehand seeking out lavish dresses with sequins and pearl necklaces - our local charity shops must wonder what on earth is going on when a group of big, butch men, many with tattoos all over, go wandering in and trying on dresses! Last weekend, on the way to DMs Mum and Dad's party we popped in to see Pete and Erica and Pete was on the phone declaring his budget and explaining in minute detail what he wanted to Martin who was going off to buy the dresses that morning.

The weather yesterday was also beautiful - in fact it was probably the nicest day of the year. The blue skies over the whitewashed cottages, the field full of families enjoying the day out and spending the afternoon lying on the field with friends - it was just about a perfect day.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Thunder on a sunny day

We had a lovely day yesterday, sunshine and only a light wind. I decided that although many garden tasks are not "do-able" because of the soaking wet soil, I'd try to do some taming by doing some pruning so I spent the afternoon with my loppers, pruning saw, shredder and my solar-powered radio set to Radio 4 where I caught the afternoon play (always a joy), the Archers and a whole host of other delights.

While I was working, apart from the sounds generated by my own endeavours, my ears were hardly disturbed by any man-made noises at all, other than an occasional car on the road outside the secret garden where I was working away.

The sounds therefore were all made by nature, especially a host of lovely songbirds, singing their little hearts out. One robin sat in the top of the cherry tree and sang for a good half an hour, in a duet with another robin, unsighted (by me) on the other side of the garden. I had to keep stopping the shredder to fill my ears and my heart with his sounds. it was quite beautiful.

Then I heard thunder - or at least I thought it was thunder, which was odd given the blue and quite definitely unstormy sky. I wandered around the garden wondering whether there was a storm creeping up from a part of the horizon where I had no view, which in itself seemed odd given that we have 360 degree views here and the biggest sky you can imagine.

Suddenly I realised the source of the thunder - it was the thundering hooves of the three "hosses" who are lodging in the field behind our house - our poor neighbours who'd planned to make their own hay this year for the first time gave up in a quagmire of disgusting wet weather and mud so they got in some help to get the fields cut before the autumn!

I smiled!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Big Ted and Floppy

My psychologist's treatment is based around teaching me to be kind to myself. The irony is that I do consider myself to be a kind person, but somehow I am so hard on myself that if I'd said or thought anything so harsh to anyone else, I'd have died of shame and humiliation for being so horrid.

Among a range of other things all designed to make me nicer to me, she suggested that I should hug myself if I'm feeling low or frightened. To be honest, I found that such an alien concept that I could not imagine ever doing it so I decided to fish Big Ted out of the cupboard and hug him instead.

In case you've not guessed, Big Ted is my teddy bear, he's forty-seven years old, having been a first birthday present from my folks. He's covered in so many "love marks" that it's hard to imagine what he once looked like as a pristine teddy straight out of the box. I took him to bed with me every night until I was well into my twenties.

In the late 1970s, my Mum carefully unpicked several of his seams, took out the crumbly foam that he'd originally been stuffed with that had deteriorated badly over his first twenty years or so of life and replaced the filling with a modern one that is still nice and squishy today. The final part of this operation was to resew the seams and wash him in the washing machine before giving him back to me as a "good as new" Big Ted.

I continued to love him virtually to the point of extinction - he's now so tatty that he's almost completely threadbare across his front, leaving nothing between the stuffing and the outside world but some very old, very frayed fabric that's looking very fragile these days. So, when my Mum realised I was using Big Ted for my hugs again, she was worried about his well-being. She suggested clothing him but I found that suggestion not just weird but somehow rather unpleasant - he's always loved me in no more than his bearskin and that's how it should be!

When we went to see my folks over the weekend (yes, we had to go to London for DMs folks 50th wedding anniversary so we popped in on my Mum's birthday to say "Happy Birthday" to her), she called me into her hall and presented me with Floppy.

He's a "Bear Factory" rabbit, all soft, new and lusciously huggable. Not only that but he was "made" by my family (Mum, Dad and my two nephews) so he's made with love.......and he's got a heart. You give him a squeeze and his heart beats. I find it difficult to articulate how comforting it is to squeeze him then press your ear to his tummy and hear his heart beating. Whenever I'm feeling a bit blue, I just give him a hug and feel his response. It's wonderful.

The only trouble is - I now feel disloyal to Big Ted who isn't getting hugged any more. I can't make up my mind if I'd be more upset to keep on hugging Big Ted until he dies completely or if I can live with the disloyalty to protect his life for the future. I think the latter will win over the former but it's still a toughie.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Linda The Destroyer

I've got a confession to make that puts me in the gruesome, gristly world of BAD PEOPLE. I've become a mass-murderer on a scale rarely seen. I'm murdering slugs by the hundred each evening. Oh yes, I am. Not just that but I'm actually coming back into the house covered in slime, drenched through to the skin because it's not stopped raining here for months and SMILING because I'm so pleased with myself.

What has turned me into this monster? Well, I dug up a few potatoes from the veggie garden for supper a few days ago only to discover that there were papery potato skins that contained nothing more or less than a few fat and obviously contented slugs, with no potato flesh left at all. Well, I'm sorry but those potatoes were meant for my tummy, not theirs. In a world where the chips are down and my food, that I've worked hard to cultivate is being taken by others, I'm not about to take that lightly.

So, I think about my options - the slug pubs that have been in situ all summer don't work well because the beer is getting watered down and washed out by rain so they've not done the job they did for me last year. I don't want to use metaldehyde based pellets or powders - no toxic chemicals in my veggie patch thank you very much. I've been asking in coffee bars for coffee grounds and have managed to protect my leeks using this method but it doesn't work for plants that touch the ground in more than one place, such as the chards, spinach or even the potatoes underground.

My solution is a tub that has had an organic fertiliser in it that I put the slugs that I pick off my plants and soil in then I pour salt over the top of them before I put the lid on. Yes, I am wicked and evil. Do I care? Like I said - it's them or me - if they eat my crops I can't so I'm not going to let that happen. I reckon it takes me an hour at dusk to clear 3 of my 6 veggie beds - to try to do more would be back-breaking and take another hour. In have to be a little pragmatic about the time spent on it.